Strengthening Mali's Penal Chain

12 Nov 2015

It is only 25 years ago that Mali initiated its transition from dictatorship to a more inclusive democracy and a more equal society. In many ways it is, therefore, no great surprise that the country has not been able to either transcend personalised power politics or overcome critical socio-economic cleavages.

These issues manifested themselves most recently in the 2012 crisis that almost undid the country, causing a sharp rupture with Mali’s previous status as ‘poster child of democracy’. The episode also once more made it abundantly clear that the country’s ‘social contract’ requires significant progress before it can express an agreement between those governed and those governing. 

Mali’s justice system, in particular its penal process, is an important component of this equation because the fair, transparent and effective adjudication of disputes arising from the clash between the rights and duties of Mali’s citizens and their state could improve the terms of the country’s social contract. This report analyses the organisation and performance of the penal process in Mali, with the aim of providing advice on how that process could be strengthened in ways that would enable it to act as a unifying element in Mali’s development by holding state and citizens accountable to the same standards of conduct.

Most Malians turn to ‘customary justice’ actors for both civil and criminal cases, making the state-run penal process irrelevant to large sectors of the population in many parts of the country – prominently the north. In part, the state justice system fulfils such a modest role in the lives of many Malians because it is characterized by a daunting array of interconnected problems, of which the most important are a lack of judicial independence, chronic corruption, a quantitative and qualitative shortage of both staff and material resources, and insufficient connections with ‘customary justice’ actors given their relevance.

Fortunately, there is a rich array of international programming experience that can be leveraged to introduce a greater variety of approaches in Mali, as long as they are appropriately contextualised. This report’s analysis of these lessons, together with its in-depth analysis of the key challenges of Mali’s penal chain, suggest that four programmatic starting points are essential for designing and implementing programmes that seek to improve criminal justice in Mali with a chance of success.

This report was written by Diana Goff and Erwin van Veen of Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit (CRU) for the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) and funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Bamako, Mali. It has been produced at the request of IDLO with the aim of serving as an advisory input into its plans to design and implement a programme in Mali to support strengthening the country’s penal chain. In consequence, the report has been developed in close cooperation with key IDLO staff.

Report attached and available for download.